A third round of Victorian detection and domestic friction for the imperishable Holmes brothers.
If there had been a 24-hour news cycle in 1873, every hour would have been devoted to the Fire 411 killer, whose murders would never have been identified as such if he hadn’t insisted on leaving his calling card at each crime scene, a message reading “The Fire 411!” The eight victims to date, ranging from a boy of 7 and a girl of 10 up to a retired barrister in his 80s, have been so marginal that the case wouldn’t have enticed Mycroft, addict and sometime foreign agent, if the ninth victim, Elise Wickham, weren’t the stepdaughter of Queen Victoria’s cousin Count Wolfgang Hohenlohe-Langenburg. In fact, the Count, a bully and a swindler, had already attracted the attention of Mycroft and his Trinidadian friend, Cyrus Douglas, who now must switch gears smoothly from seeking evidence of him to solving his stepdaughter’s murder to accommodate the queen. Their novel solution is to farm the case out to Mycroft’s younger brother, who’s a student at Downing College, Cambridge. Sherlock’s eagerness to follow the crooked trail of the Fire 911 killer leaves Mycroft free to oblige shipping magnate Deshi Hai Lin, whose life he saved in Mycroft and Sherlock (2018) and who now, as if he weren’t already indebted enough, begs Mycroft’s help in seeking and recovering Bingwen Shi, the fiance of his lovely daughter, Ai Lin. The decision to assign each of the feuding brothers to a separate case is great for the family peace, but it soft-pedals a leading attraction of the series and produces enough back-and-forth plotting to put most readers in serious danger of whiplash. Against all odds, the riddle behind the kidnapping turns out to be more interesting, more surprising, and more logical than that of the Fire 411 killer.
All the usual pleasures—blood and thunder, sibling rivalry, historical walk-ons—but no great shakes as a mystery.